We're all missing the point on Colm O'Rourke's comments
We can all do better.
When Colm O'Rourke made his comments on Sunday evening, he probably wasn't expecting some of the reaction he received. He likely didn't think he had said anything wrong.
I ran a piece yesterday where the CEO of LGBT Ireland Paula Fagan gave her reaction to O'Rourke's comments. Whether on Facebook or Twitter, there was one overwhelming message in the reaction to it; cop yourself on, you're making a mountain out of a molehill.
This is not a part of a cancel culture witch hunt. It's an appeal that we all accept that certain words and phrases are outdated, unnecessary and frankly damaging to us all when they are used. That regardless of the context of our comments or their intention, sometimes we can unintentionally cause offence to marginalised communities. There needs to be scope for us all to learn and grow, not just to point the finger at one another and try have each other sacked every time someone offends someone. This is a perfect example of such an opportunity, and instead of listening to the people affected by it, we are putting our fingers in our ears and shouting "triggered" and "snow flakes" and bemoaning the fact that we "aren't allowed to speak any more".
Look at the statement issued by RTÉ to SportsJOE in response to that interview with Paula Fagan;
"It is RTÉ's understanding that Colm O'Rourke and David Gough have been in touch with each other privately on this matter. "
When asked if there was any statement to be made in relation to the comments made by O'Rourke themselves;
"No further comment from us."
I have a few issues with this. Was there an apology at all? Was there any kind of acceptance from O'Rourke that what he had said caused offence? Also, even if there was one, why is it now only an issue between David Gough and Colm O'Rourke? These comments were made on national television on a popular programme. They weren't just heard by Gough. They were beamed across the country, and if anyone missed it they were doing the rounds on social media all day yesterday. Similar to the fallout from Fine Gael's Catherine Noone's remarks about Leo Varadkar being "autistic" last week, just because one person may have accepted her apology that does not mean that the damage wasn't done. It certainly doesn't mean that just that person was affected.
The point is not, as so many people have pointed out, whether O'Rourke intended offence. The point is not the context in which he used the phrase. The point is that it presents an outdated, stereotypical view of what manhood and manliness is supposed to be. It implies that being LGBTI, because the phrase used is derogatory towards that community whether it's intended to be or not, is somewhat lesser, somewhat weaker, somewhat inferior. No matter how many times you tell me or anyone else that it means "weak" or "soft" or share a screenshot of an urban dictionary definition or a picture of a flower, that won't change. That's what it means to the LGBTI community. It hurts.
I am not, as some people have levelled at me, demanding O'Rourke's head. I am not calling his professionalism or motivations into question. I do not want him to lose his job. That's not a world we can realistically live in. But why is this being swept under the carpet when Joe Brolly got the boot for calling someone's professionalism into question? Why is that deemed a more serious infringement than homophobia, accidental or otherwise?
This isn't something to be hushed into a corner. It's a genuine opportunity for all of us; fans, media, broadcasters and players to look at the language we use around manliness and physicality. To ask ourselves how we define courage and bravery. To question the outdated stereotypes we still use that damage our teammates. If your initial reaction to the piece we published yesterday was to immediately dismiss it, ask yourself why members of the LGBTI community shouldn't be the people we take the lead from on this?
If the CEO of a major LGBTI charity in Ireland, who has been at the coalface of Ireland's struggles with homophobia, tells us that "if a person is watching that who is LGBTI and they hear that, they may think twice about going to their club tonight to play", why aren't we listening? If an openly gay former Cork hurler, who has been verbally abused and threatened about his sexuality in public, tells us that the comments are "outdated", why aren't we listening? If the man who led the GAA in the Pride Parade last year for the first time in their history, who almost walked away from the games because he was afraid of coming out to teammates, says that O'Rourke's comments are "homophobic", why aren't we fucking listening?
We can all learn from this. We can all do better. We can all listen.
"There was no bad intention...but... by using language like that it really does amplify this perception that being LGBTI is somehow negative."
🗣️ @LGBT_ie CEO Paula Fagan on Colm O'Rourke's comments last night and the need for education around language.https://t.co/YUOeIdTBBO pic.twitter.com/7Y6Vl3mafl
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) February 3, 2020